Clark County to step up septic training

Effort aims to give homeowners skills to do inspections

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Clark County residents who aren't afraid to get their hands a little dirty might be able to save themselves some money.

Clark County Public Health is planning to revamp its program that allows septic owners to inspect their own systems, making the program available to more residents and giving homeowners hands-on experience.

The goal is to get the county's 32,000 homeowners with septic systems more invested in, and educated about, their systems and potentially cut their inspection costs in half, said Aaron Henderson, environmental health program manager.

State regulations require homeowners with conventional (gravity) distribution systems to get inspections every three years. About 80 percent of Clark County septic systems are conventional systems, Henderson said. Homeowners with pressure distribution systems are required to get inspections every two years and alternative systems require annual inspections.

Currently, Clark County offers a class once a month for homeowners with conventional systems. Those who attend the workshop, which costs $20, can be certified to complete their own inspection every other time one is required (once every six years), rather than hire a private company to perform the work.

Henderson proposed revamping the curriculum to make it more interactive and to allow those with pressure and some alternative systems the opportunity to perform their own inspections as well.

On Wednesday, Clark County commissioners gave Henderson the OK to move forward with developing the new policy. The policy will come back before the commissioners for discussion and approval at a future meeting.

The new program would provide a "Septic 101" course on the county's website, which would be available to anyone who wants to learn more about septic systems. Homeowners who want to perform their own inspections, however, would also be required to attend a hands-on demonstration on inspections.

The cost of the proposed program would be covered by the $16.50 annual septic operating permit fee collected on the tax statements of all Clark County homeowners with septic systems and would no longer require homeowners to pay $20 for the class, Henderson said.

Henderson held a few pilot classes earlier this year and marketed the program to homeowners through Washington State University Vancouver. Dozens of people signed up for each of the three classes. The county's current monthly lectures attract only two to six people, Henderson said.

The new program could be up and running as early as January.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.